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How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?

How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?
Acquiring Italian citizenship is the ultimate way to guarantee your future in Italy. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Thinking of applying to become Italian? Here's how many other people do it each year, where they come from and how they qualify.

All data referred to in this article comes from Istat, Italy's national statistics office. It refers to people acquiring Italian citizenship who are resident in Italy.

How many people get Italian citizenship each year?

A total of 127,001 people were granted Italian citizenship in 2019, the last year for which official data is available. 

That's a slight increase from 2018, when 112,523 people became Italian, but still considerably below 2017 (146,605) or 2016 (201,591), when the number of successful citizenship requests registered a spike.

Where do most 'new Italians' come from?

In 2019, like most years before it, the vast majority of people acquiring citizenship came from outside the European Union: 113,979 or roughly 90 percent. That's what you'd expect, since people with EU passports already enjoy most of the same rights in Italy as Italians and therefore have less incentive to apply for citizenship.

The highest number of successful applications came from Albanians (26,033), followed by Moroccans (15,812), Brazilians (10,762), Romanians (10,201), North Macedonians (4,966), Indians (4,683), Moldovans (3,788), Ecuadoreans (3,041), Senegalese (2,869), Pakistanis (2,722) and Peruvians (2,685).

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Citizens of Albania and Morocco have consistently made up the top two since at least 2012, with as many as 36,920 Albanians and 35,212 Moroccans gaining Italian citizenship when claims were at their height in 2016.

Meanwhile Brazil has seen successful citizenship requests increase more than sevenfold since 2012.

Other nationalities are far less likely to apply for Italian citizenship despite having a relatively large immigrant population in Italy: notably, less than 5 percent of Italy's Chinese residents have acquired Italian citizenship, presumably because China does not permit dual nationality.

How do most people qualify for Italian citizenship?

In 2019, the most common way to acquire citizenship was either by descent (ius sanguinis, which allows those who can prove descent from at least one Italian ancestor to claim Italian citizenship), by birthplace (ius soli, which entitles people born and raised in Italy by non-Italian parents to claim Italian citizenship at age 18), or by parental transmission (the law that automatically transfers citizenship to the children of adults who acquire citizenship, provided they're under 18 and living with them at the time).

Altogether 57,098 people qualified for Italian citizenship via one of these three routes in 2019, around 45 percent of the total.

Another 52,877 people (42 percent) qualified via residency in Italy, while 17,026 (13 percent) qualified by marriage to an Italian national.

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While claims based on residency or birthplace/descent increased by around 13,000 and 8,000 respectively from the year before, claims from spouses of Italian nationals were down sharply by more than 7,000. In fact citizenship requests via this route were at their lowest last year since 2015; in every other year since 2012, they have been either around or above 20,000.

That may reflect a change in the law in late 2018 that allowed the Italian state to take up to four years to process requests for citizenship via marriage, where previously they had to be answered within two years or automatically granted after this point.

The new rules also abolish automatic consent after the deadline, as well as introducing a language test for people applying via marriage or residency.


Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

Another notable trend is the rise in the number of people successfully claiming Italian citizenship by descent. In 2016, the year that Italy's statistics office began tracking such claims, some 7,000 people gained citizenship this way; in 2017 it was over 8,200, in 2018 it reached 9,000, and in 2019 it was over 10,000.

The majority of ius sanguinis claims come from two countries: Brazil and Argentina, which between then accounted for nearly 96 percent of all citizenship by descent claims in 2019.

Where in Italy do most people get citizenship?

The region of Italy with the most successful citizenship claims in 2019 was Lombardy, which granted 31,437 requests. The region has topped the list for several years, reflecting the large numbers of foreigners who move there for work or study. 

Other regions where high numbers of people gained citizenship were Veneto (16,960), Emilia-Romagna (12,014), Piedmont (11,702) and Tuscany (11,139). While Lazio, the region of Rome, has a high foreign-born population, just 9,258 people took Italian citizenship there.

The regions handing out the fewest new citizenships, meanwhile, were Sardinia (677), Molise (504), Basilicata (418) and Valle d'Aosta (361).

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The further north you go, the more people base their claim on residency – reflecting the fact that the wealthy, industrial north has long attracted migrants looking for work.

In the south, meanwhile, and especially the regions of Calabria, Basilicata and Molise, the majority of citizenship claims were based on ancestry, the legacy of decades of emigration overseas from impoverished parts of southern Italy.

What else do we know about people who apply for citizenship in Italy?

They're mainly women (66,890 in 2019 compared to 60,111 men), and they're mainly young: the largest age group is under-20s, who accounted for 45,741 citizenships granted in 2019.

People aged 20-39 made up another 39,929, while 40- to 59-year-olds numbered 36,316. The number of people over 60 who acquired Italian citizenship was just 5,015.

A version of this article was first published in 2020.


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